HIV and Cancer Risk

HIV patients at higher risk for certain cancers

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) If you have HIV, you should already be very cautious about your health. According to a new study, HIV puts you at higher risk for cancer. But you have some control: Lifestyle choices also contribute to risk.

HIV is an autoimmune disease which reduces the body's ability to fight off infections, some of which could potentially lead to cancer. Researchers compared cancer risk rates between HIV-infected individuals, and a similar population that did not have HIV. They found that six out of 10 cancers were more common in people with HIV, and that lifestyle choices, like smoking, played a significant role in increasing risk.

"Ask your doctor how to decrease your risk for cancer."

People with HIV often become infected by diseases which complicate their treatment. But few studies had compared cancer risk between those with HIV and those without.

The study was led by Michael Silverberg, PhD, MPH, a research scientist with the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research. His team took data from the medical records 20,775 HIV-infected and 215,158 HIV-uninfected individuals enrolled in Kaiser Permanente California for cancer from 1996 – 2008.

Ten types of cancers were studied. The findings were that six types of cancer were more common in patients with HIV. That list includes Kaposi's sarcoma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, Hodgkin lymphoma, melanoma, anal cancer and liver cancer. Lung and oral cavity cancer was also common, although the researchers attributed the elevated risk to lifestyle choices, like smoking.

People with HIV had a 199 percent greater risk of Kaposi's sarcoma, a cancerous tumor of infective tissue, which is usually associated directly with AIDS. They had a 55 percent greater risk of developing anal cancer, and a 15 percent increased risk for non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

The study analysis suggested that lower counts of an immune cell called CD4 were positively associated with all studied cancers, except prostate cancer. But the amount of HIV virus of the blood only corresponded to Kaposi's sarcoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Dr. Silverberg advised that people with HIV take preventative measures as non-infected people would do to guard against cancer, such as quitting a smoking habit. But the study also suggested that earlier antiretroviral therapy might reduce the high risk of cancer for those with HIV.

The study was published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention in November 2011.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 22, 2011
Last Updated:
November 24, 2011